Sole victim in tug sinking failed to turn on his strobe light

One crewman died and four others were rescued in late December after the tug Primo Brusco sank 17 miles northwest of Florence, Ore.

The body of the dead crewman was recovered the day after the sinking. He was wearing a survival suit, but his strobe light had not been switched on.

According to Lt. Marianne Gelakoska of the Marine Safety Office Portland, Ore., the strobe light on the crewman’s survival suit had been turned off but was operational.

“It is unfortunate that the one thing that could have saved him was not working. His body was found in the vicinity and probably would have been rescued if the strobe had been switched on.”

The crewman died of hypothermia after being in 52° water for over 30 hours.

U.S. Coast Guard Station Siuslaw River and the command center at Coast Guard Group North Bend received a distress call at 0224 on Dec. 30 from Primo Brusco, which had a log barge in tow. The master reported that the tug was taking on water. Gale warnings were in effect at the time.

Just after the command center took down the initial information, it lost communications with the tug, according to Petty Officer Sarah Foster-Snell of the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Office Seattle. The command center at Group North Bend tried to re-establish communication but was unsuccessful. Two HH-65A Dolphin helicopters were deployed, one from North Bend and another from Newport, Ore. In addition, a 47-foot motor lifeboat was launched from Station Umpqua River.

Thirty minutes after radio contact with the tug was lost, the Coast Guard’s District Command Center in Seattle received an EPIRB alert from the vessel. At 0330, the Coast Guard vessels and aircraft on the scene reported sighting multiple strobes and debris in the water. A data marker buoy was then dropped to indicate the location.

Just before dawn, the helicopters located the drifting log barge, EPIRB and life rings. They found one of the crewmembers in the water and three others in a life raft. The crewman in the water was hoisted into the helicopter first, and the men in the raft were picked up by one of the motor lifeboats. All were in good condition and were transported to Florence.

With one crewman still missing, the search was resumed at first light. An HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Astoria began the first search pattern and was soon joined by a C-130 Hercules that happened to be transiting the area. The search continued until 2330, with no sign of the missing crewman.

The search resumed at dawn the next day, with one of the company’s other tugs, Jack Brusco, assisting. After covering a total of 1,254 square miles with a total of 21 search patterns, one of the helicopters spotted the missing crewman in the water. He was hoisted aboard but exhibited no vital signs.

The log barge was retrieved by a contract tug, Ocean Commander, and towed to Coos Bay, Ore. There are no plans to refloat Primo Brusco, which sank in 500 feet of water.

The cause of the sinking is still unknown.

By Professional Mariner Staff